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Posted at: Oct 24, 2016, 2:34 AM; last updated: Oct 24, 2016, 2:34 AM (IST)SUNDAY INTERVIEW

Ambient air, noise pollution to be monitored during Diwali time, says expert

Ambient air, noise pollution to be monitored during Diwali time, says expert
Sandeep Bahl

With every Diwali witnessing a rise in asthmatics and concerns raised about both noise and air pollutiom due to the use of crackers, the PPCB teams have the job to monitor the city for pollution and to spread awareness to keep the festival clean, green and happy. With a detailed schedule chalked out to screen pre-Diwali and post-Diwali readings, the Punjab Pollution Control Board’s senior environment engineer for the Jalandhar Zone Sandeep Bahl chats with The Tribune correspondent Aparna Banerji on the PPCB’s plans to keep citizens safe this Diwali and other environmental concerns for Jalandhar as well as Doaba. 

The department has kicked off Diwali this year with a video depicting adverse affects or crackers on animals playing at multiplexes. It’s a good initiative, what has the response been like? 

We in the PPCB are trying to touch sentimental chord of the public. That which can’t be enforced through laws and acts can often be brought home with the help of initiatives which appeal to the people’s emotions and senses. The initiative conceptualised by the PCCB Chairman has struck a chord with the people and we are getting very sportive responses from the audience who have seen the videos. These are being shown at multiplexes ahead of film screenings and are also being shown to schools, both government and private, and are being screened at malls. We are also holding lectures and programmes at schools to inspire children for a clean Diwali. 

What’s your air, noise monitoring schedule this Diwali? 

We shall be monitoring for ambient air and noise pollution readings from tomorrow. The readings are being taken at various places and spots ahead of Diwali, during and after it. The ambient readings shall be taken from 6 am on October 24 to 6 am on October 25, the noise readings shall be taken from 6 pm to 9 pm tomorrow. The readings shall be taken at three key areas – sensitive (near ESI hospital), commercial (near clock tower) and residential (Guru Tegh Bahadur Nagar). Our technical and scientific staff shall be deputed on various locations even on Diwali day to ensure the readings. After Diwali, they shall be taken on October 31 or November 1.

But even though it’s done every year, is it effective? Have the readings ever registered a decline and have emissions gone down? 

Certainly. Even though through a few units, the readings have registered a minor reduction. And sharing of readings with the populace itself inspires people’s curiosity. Everyone is interested in a healthy lifestyle and sharing of readings inspires people to know the state of the city and encourages them to work hard to enjoy a cleaner lifestyle. Some end up making sure they reduce their respective emission of Diwali. 

Often cracker sales are witnessed in the city areas even though they are only allowed in the Burlton Park area. Are you contributing to fix this violation? 

We are constantly interacting with the MC and other local bodies to ensure that Diwali stays safe for city residents and such elements stick to the stipulated pace for the sale of crackers. 

As far as water pollution is concerned, the various treatment plants in Jalandhar have been in the news for all the wrong reasons. They are often caught non-functional or dumping their untreated wastes in rivers, what is the PPCB doing to ensure their effective working?

We have 245 MLD of water being treated by treatment plants at Jalandhar. With the initiatives of the CM, the various treatments plants in the region were established to ensure that all water is treated and none of the citizens had to consume untreated water. The government also persuaded the PPCB and the water board to ensure the water doesn’t go untreated and we have been largely successful in the initiative. As per the permissible limits of the CPCB majority of the plants run by us are generating less than 10 BoD of pollutants. Plants like Pholariwal or stray others which are generating 20 to 28 BoD is due to the fact that they are designed as per the old technological models and that is the extent of their output . To fix that we are working on technology upgrades in the future to ensure more efficient treatment of effluents in the water. 

Despite raps by visiting teams, the plants are still not working full capacity and are hogged with delayed deadlines. On top of it, erring officials are never punished. 

Those that had closed were due to the lack of power supply or other reasons. The PPCB is keeping a strict eye on the plants and whenever a problem emerges we make efforts to imeediately fix it. We haven’t even hesitated to take up issues of non-functional plants with Board Director. Because the intention has always been to keep things clear and punish violators. Action has also been taken against officials who were defaulters on these counts at Kapurthala, Phagwara and Phillaur. We have initiated proceedings under the court of law against erring people. 

But often low-level officers, none of them even from the PPCB — are penalised and that too, let off pretty soon. There is lack of accountability. 

Once we file court case in the court of a Sessions Judge or a court of law, it is for them to pursue the matter further. We have been doing our job by filing the proceedings. 

An 18-km pipeline in Kapurthala is preventing the Kapurthala treatment plant from functioning. What steps are being taken to make it functional soon? 

We are regularly holding meetings on the issue. A meeting under the CM had also recently taken place in August. Once the present crop is harvested, the work on that shall begun. We have also brought the issue to the notice of the Divisional Soil Conservation officer.

What are your plans for the treated water from the plants? 

As many as the 245 MLA water treated in Jalandhar shall be used to irrigate agricultural land. For that, we are also using satellite imagery. In another 10 to 15 days the ground work on the project shall be completed. We shall be submitting the report regarding it to the Ministry of Water resources. We have also engaged consultants for the preparation of proper plan for the use of water by villages. 

Radioactivity in Doaba groundwater has been hinted at by independent agency reports and the department also received a rap from the national Green Tribunal on the issue. The villages by the rivers and drains of Doaba have been nicknamed its cancer belts. A malaise earlier restricted to Malwa is polluting this region as well. But effluent disposal into these continue. 

These traits in water is sometimes a natural phenomena. After the NGT’s case highlighted the issue team from the CPCB and Central Ministry of Environment monitored the villages to assess the situation in the districts. The results of sample reports, thus, created were assessed by independent central laboratories of the country. The reports did not find anything to suggest the groundwater was compromised. The NGT was also presented with the findings and it was satisfied. Now we have been told to conduct regular monitoring, which we are. 

There is a criticism against the PPCB that it often raids big establishments finding major violations, but none of these owners are brought to book, none of the places sealed nor the owners penalised. 

It’s good that people keep a watch on us. It’s true we have raided some big establishments, but we always follow up the rid with due action. After any action, the erring parties are issued notices. A sugar mill in Kapurthala, for example, remained closed for many months after it was found to be dumping effluents irresponsibly. In the leather complex also, major industries have been penalised and have received notices. 

The depleting green cover in Jalandhar has its bearings in dirtying both water and air. What is the PPCB doing to prevent that?

Normally we play an advisory role for the same. But we are making sure none of the commercial projects get clearance if they don’t maintain proper green cover. Malls and major establishments are regularly checked and get clearance only if they are ensuring that they have proper green cover with the proportion of effluents they are going to dump. 

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